Although this column has mostly turned into a feature about the video game series, Danganronpa, I’d argue that each game feels like a new season of an anime series (or just a new video game, which it is–don’t judge me). I will certainly write about more than just Danganronpa in the future, but I need to finish writing about this series because of the enormous impression it left on me. The first game was captivating, the second was amazing, but now, something different.
Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls is a huge departure from other games in the series because it is a third-person shooter, not a point-and-click murder mystery. Each of the two playable characters has a unique weapon with plenty of upgrades available throughout the game. As in most shoot-em ups, there are different enemies to destroy and puzzles to solve. Still, Ultra Despair Girls is a blast and necessary to build the fictional world of Danganronpa. But it bears repeating: Beware of spoilers, anime-niacs.
Ultra Despair Girls begins with teenage girl, Komaru Naegi, who has been trapped inside of an apartment for an entire year until the series’ mascot, Monokuma, bursts though the door and attacks her. Komaru flees and is rescued by a survivor of Danganronpa, Byakuya, but unfortunately, the young man is quickly captured and shortly thereafter, so is Komaru. The antagonists of the game, a group of young children who call themselves the Warriors of Hope, force Komaru to try and survive the streets of Towa City against an onslaught of Monokuma robots. Sadly, the children of Towa City, all wearing Monokuma masks, have helped the robotic bears kill most of the adults. Thankfully, Komaru doesn’t have to fight alone because she is joined by another Danganropa alum, Toko/Genocide Jack (and with “Genocide” in the name, she’s probably good in a fight.). Toko and Byakuya are members of the heroic Future Foundation, fighting to rid the world of the carnage and despair Junko Enoshima has inspired. But since Byakuya has been captured and Toko is in love with him, she agrees to help Komaru defeat the villains so she can rescue the young man.
Komaru’s last name is instantly recognizable–she is the sister of the primary protagonist of Danganronpa, Makoto Naegi. She’s cute, a bit naïve and ditzy, but very brave even though she doesn’t realize it. Toko is also recognizable from Danganronpa as a main character where, in my opinion, she began as quite unlikable. But by the end of Danganronpa, Toko’s other personality, serial killer Genocide Jack, has successfully curbed her desire to kill and the other survivors even seem to consider her a friend (so, not Genocide? What’s the opposite of genocide?). Throughout Ultra Despair Girls, she is still extremely nervous and unconfident as Toko, but the player has the ability to switch to Genocide Jack for limited periods of time, and Jack is incredibly powerful and fast. It is nice to finally have the ability to destroy Monokumas in a Danganronpa game, even though, just as in previous entries, the robotic bear is nothing but a tool for the actual villain. It is quite disturbing circumstances that caused the Warriors of Hope to join together and massacre adults.
Masaru, Jataro, Kotoko, Nagisa, and Monaca are all grade-school aged and the masterminds of the horrifying situation in Towa City. The kids believe that the world will be a better and safer place by killing all of the adults. I certainly don’t believe that any of the kids are right in their actions, but none of their motivations are unbelievable. Jataro believes he is the ugliest person in the world because of how terribly he has always been treated. He wears a mask, keeps his entire body covered at all times, and constantly apologizes because he believes everything wrong that occurs is his fault. Kotoko panics when she hears the word, “gentle,” because before men would molest her, they would promise to be gentle. Kotoko’s parents allowed the abuse to happen because they wanted her to be a television star. Nagisa’s parents fed him only through an IV drip and forced him to skip sleep so he could do nothing but study.
More than just the horror of child abuse leading to children murdering adults, this shows, more so than the previous games, the underlying theme in Danganronpa – the pressure that adults put on children to be successful. Hope’s Peak Academy, the high school featured in the previous games, only accepts the most talented children – the school shapes the future leaders of various industries and societal influence. A teenager must be deemed a prodigy in a particular category and invited to attend the institution. For some children, both in this fictional game and in real life, there is extreme external pressure to fit society’s definition of success unfortunately driven by obsessive, controlling adult–parents, administrators, and employers. Rather than focus on exploration, personal growth and happiness, others’ expectations rule. In the first two games, the students literally kill each other in order to survive high school. In Ultra Despair Girls, parents of the Warriors of Hope physically and mentally destroy the kids in an attempt to make them successful. More than this analogy, however, I do believe that this game helped add to the overall narrative connecting Danganronpa games not just by Ultra Despair Girls own story, but its setting.
By this game, it was imperative that the player actually interacted with the outside world. The first two games, while both wonderful, only tell the player about the situation beyond Hope’s Peak–this game shows it. Part of the mystery of the first Danganronpa is the unknown reason for the high school killing game. Although it is revealed at the end of the game, much more has happened because of the villain’s influence. Images are shown over the antagonist’s lengthy explanation, but Danganronpa ends immediately before the survivors exit the school. The second game is completely shrouded in mystery until the end, but even then, the player still has not experienced the outside world firsthand. Had this continued, it would have been to the series’ detriment. Fortunately, Danganronpa and Danganronpa 2 execute a wonderful setup, and Ultra Despair Girls drops the player right into the middle of the action (and dancing bears).
Ultra Despair Girls is a welcome change in the series that also serves to expand the story via the setting. There are plenty of new characters, but many familiar faces and names that help ground this game squarely within Danganronpa lore. My only complaint is that some of the final revelations were a bit anticlimactic, but ultimately take little away from a great and exciting game. Danganronpa Another Episode: Ultra Despair Girls actually shows the destruction occurring in the world and immerses the player in it, introduces different villains, highlights the heroes and expands their operations, and is an essential piece in building Danganronpa.